Ken Loach, Brian Eno and Frankie Boyle are among dozens of actors, writers, academics and trade union chiefs who have signed a letter telling David Cameron to keep British forces out of the air war on Syria.
The open letter, coordinated by the Stop the War coalition, will be handed in at Downing Street on Saturday, when thousands are expected to gather in Whitehall in opposition to the proposed airstrikes, which the prime minister says are needed to fight Islamic State.
Nearly 8,000 people have so far indicated on Facebook that they will attend the emergency protest, which was called on Monday, while more than 20,000 have said they are interested in doing so. Very few recent protests have gathered such strong support so quickly, Stop the War has said.
Smaller protests are planned in more than a dozen towns and cities in the UK.
Stop the War’s letter to the prime minister says: “The current rush to bomb Syria following the terrible events in Paris risks a dangerous escalation which will inflame the war there and increase bitterness against the west. The US has been bombing Isis for a year and admits that Isis is as strong as ever and has continued recruiting.
“The experience of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya shows that western military interventions lead to large-scale casualties, devastating destruction and huge flows of refugees.
“Far from tackling terrorism, the last 14 years of war have seen massively increased jihadi terrorist organisations around the world.
“Rather than ignoring this recent history by joining the long list of countries that have bombed Syria in the last year, we urge the government to stop arming reactionary and aggressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that sponsor terrorist groups and look for political solutions as the only viable way to end the conflict.”
Cameron published a written response to the Commons foreign affairs committee on Thursday making his case for airstrikes against Isis. He also told MPs: “I am in no doubt that it is in our national interest to stop them. And stopping them means taking action in Syria, because it is Raqqa that is their headquarters.”
He added: “We shouldn’t be content with outsourcing our security to our allies. If we won’t act now, when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our friends and allies can be forgiven for asking: if not now, when?”
Lindsey German, chair of the Stop the War coalition, said the British public had no appetite for war and there was now an urgent need for people to lobby their MPs to make their views clear. She said: “This war, this bombing, if Britain does vote to go and bomb Syria, will be a very serious escalation of British involvement in the Middle East. British people in the past have made very clear that they were against the war in Iraq and against the war in Afghanistan, and in both those countries wars are still going on. The idea this is going to be any different is wrong.”
Any vote on whether to launch airstrikes could come as early as Wednesday, German said, depending on whether the government believes it has the support of enough Labour MPs to get parliament’s approval for military action. With Labour’s parliamentary party split over whether to support the move, the role of Labour MPs will be crucial. “There’s always a few Labour MPs who support wars and bombing come what may,” German said. “But there’s a much bigger number who can be influenced.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, and his shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, have adopted sharply opposing views on UK military action against Isis, and there are reports that most of the party’s front bench were considering supporting the prime minister. Corbyn wrote to his MPs on Thursday saying Cameron had failed earlier in the day to explain how an aerial campaign would protect UK security, setting up an intense debate in the party before the expected Commons vote next week to broaden RAF airstrikes from Iraq to Syria.
With the Labour party still suffering open wounds from the the Iraq war, German said a vote for war from its MPs would further damage the party’s standing, “particularly if people think that some of these MPs are doing this to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn,” she added. “I can’t think of a more unprincipled reason to vote for a war, in any circumstances.”
Saturday’s demonstrations are being held alongside a massive public lobbying effort orchestrated by Stop the War. German said 28,000 people had so far used an online tool to send letters to local MPs telling them not to back any vote for war.
Stop the War are also planning a public meeting early next week to discuss alternatives . Initially set for Conway Hall on Tuesday, it could now be moved to Westminster and held outside parliament if the government decides to table its war vote for Wednesday.